The touring production, at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre through Jan. 15, tells a romantic version of Peter Pan’s origin story and the life of his creator, J.M. Barrie.
A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, a mischief-maker named Peter Pan had a pack of adventures: He fought pirates, ran a gang of “lost boys,” saved a princess, became acquainted with a crocodile, got clawed by Captain Hook, sailed to safety on a nest donated by a very generous bird, etc.
In a time and galaxy closer to ours (Edwardian-era London), a troubled writer named J.M. Barrie was making up these stories because he had to write a play to meet a deadline. His inspiration for those stories: the fatherless Llewelyn Davies family, with five boys and one lonely mother, whom Barrie met on a sunny day in Kensington Gardens. Barrie was looking for fresh source material, and the kids’ make-believe games were just what he needed.
In a time and galaxy right in our laps (the Paramount Theatre in downtown Seattle), the touring Broadway musical “Finding Neverland” tells a romantic version of Barrie and Peter Pan’s origin story, toggling between the posh homes near Kensington Gardens and the theater where the playwright delivers his strange, new script about the flying boy to a skeptical cast and producer.
by James Graham, Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy. Through Jan. 15 at the Paramount Theatre, 911 Pine St., Seattle; $30-$105 (ticketmaster.com).
The musical is pretty and glittery, but not much more. Its director, Diane Paulus, has flashy credits — Cirque du Soleil, the Radio City Rockettes — and it shows. The performances are tight; the voices are steady; and Daniel Wirtzel, credited in the program as the “air sculptor,” creates a truly dazzling effect with air and glitter and cloth in the penultimate scene.
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But for grown-ups, “Finding Neverland” only has two great moments. In the song “Play,” a bunch of actors playing Barrie’s cast dance around a tavern, merrily belting out the nursery rhymes and make-believe games they loved as kids. The combined force of their joy — as real-life actors playing actors who are sharing their glee about playing pretend — is infectious. In the next song, “We Are Made of Stars,” the kids playing the Llewelyn Davies boys take over the stage and deliver an anthem about the power of imagination (“you can do what you want, do what you like, be who you want to be”) that has the charming, singalong innocence of an early Decemberists song.
Unfortunately, the musical doesn’t dig into the more unsettling details of Barrie’s life: After he got a divorce, he took over care of the Llewelyn Davies boys. Peter Llewelyn Davies (Peter Pan’s namesake and a decorated World War I veteran) committed suicide by throwing himself in front of a train. And the production hits a few wrong notes: There’s the brief, though impossible to ignore, appearance of ululating “Indians” from the Peter Pan stories, and the musical’s despised characters (vain actors, vain noblemen) are played as simpering and limp-wristed, ahem, fairies.
But on opening night, the 3,000-seat theater was packed, kids played variations of “patty-cake” in their seats before the house lights went down, the audience gasped with glee when a big dog (named Sammy, playing the part of Barrie’s dog, Porthos) ran onto the stage, and everybody clapped to save Tinkerbell.
“Finding Neverland” is a little puff of fluff — who are we to deny the kids their fun?